North Atlantic Crossing Part 3 – Beating upwind and landfall in Horta

Day 17 – Still beating upwind

Porky is in racing mode! Despite her shoaldraft keel, which already came in handy in many shallow anchorages, river estuaries and reef passes, but when beating upwind creates more drift to leeward, we have been able to point high upwind for several days now. Yesterday, the waves were very steep, which led to the bow stomping abruptly into the short waves. That’s not only annoying, and in the long run also bad for the material and slowed us down significantly. Below deck it felt like a merciless roller coaster. Nobody felt like cooking and we only ate bread, ramen and warmed up canned food. Regularly waves splashed over the entire deck into the cockpit, where we, if we did not seek protection behind the dodger in time, got soaking wet. During the day we discuss and answer the trivia questions that we receive from friends and family. That’s one of our highlights every day. At night, the waves calmed down slowly. Despite the unchanged sails with the second reef in, we were immediately 1 to 2 knots faster and sleeping much better. In addition, we had the current with us, which helped us to cover 137 nautical miles in one day. Since this morning the wind has become less and we shook out one reef after the other. The course is not perfect towards NNE, but we plan to motor through the windless center of the high pressure system in a few days, and then on the other side of it, we try to use the north winds to sail straight to Horta. We look forward to the day where we can fall off the wind a bit, the boat not heeling so much and when we can finally sleep on the other side again.

Day 18 – Approaching high

It’s very calm and we sail with the last wind in the outskirts of the high pressure system towards NNE. The waves are a lot smaller and longer and life on board has become a lot easier again. Yesterday Max cooked spicy chili coconut rice, with which I fried sweet plantains. One of our favorite dishes. We compare our position with our friends’ boat’s positions and it looks like a tight race. Since all three boats have different ranges under engine, the next few days in and near the calm areas will show who will be ahead of the others. We try to save our diesel as much as possible, although we sail very slowly. All good as long as we make enough velocity good towards Horta. We conservatively calculated that our current diesel reserves will last for about 80 hours at 5 knots speed in quiet weather, which corresponds to about 400 nautical miles. We kind of gave up on fishing the last few days, but might try to catch something again today. Slowly but surely we feel the limited exercise within our tiny, floating square meters. Since we sit or lie all day, we start to become stiff and from time to time also our backs or joints start aching. We generally try to actively stand a few hours a day and stretch a bit. A good trick is to spend most of the night watch standing, which keeps us awake and warm at the same time. The first hikes in the mountainous Azores will probably leave us breathless, most likely in both senses given our current fitness level. Surprisingly, we are still on the first water tank and have more than 400L left in the tanks, plus the emergency jugs. Amazing how little water you actually need, if you are careful and only use it for drinking, cooking and occasionally washing. We wash dishes and our hands as always with seawater. The weather near the high-pressure system is sunny and warm, though it cools down quite quickly at night. The barometer is still rising and we expect the wind to die down soon.

Day 19 – Motoring and dolphins

Yesterday we were still closer to Newfoundland than the Azores, but since this morning, the Azores are officially the closest piece of land and only under 600 nautical miles ahead. Throughout the day we played games, listened to audiobooks and music and mostly rested. Last night, we were caught in the forecasted calm area. We fed the Itty Bitty Perkins plenty of engine oil and turned it on. During the night and all morning we could follow a straight line towards Horta under engine. The sea is flat like a mirror, without any ripples, and quiet. Daniel feels reminded of sailing on the Lake of Constance. Since we have never changed our boat’s clocks since leaving the Bahamas, we live in a completely wrong time zone. We go to bed during dusk and are woken up from the radiant rays of sunlight, which find their way through the portholes onto our bunks. For half of the crew it is exactly the opposite and the stars are still lighting up the sky when their eyes open for the first time after their long rest. Since we are awake for several hours in the night anyway and therefore sleep in, or nap during the day, the different time zone does not really bother us. Everyone has found his or her own rhythm and changing the boat‘s clocks would only cause confusion. Fully adapted to this rhythm it seems like we could sail on forever and our perspective of time slowly vanishes. When was the last time we saw another ship on the horizon? 3 days ago or was it just yesterday? Our daily mileage analysis and regular logbook entries help us to keep track of everything. Instead of day and night, mainly weather conditions determine our resting and active phases. However, we are usually a bit more conservative at night and put an additional reef in the main. The headsail is easily trimmed by oneself so that there is no need to constantly wake the others to reduce sail size. This morning a large pod of dolphins came visiting. For a few minutes they appeared everywhere around the boat and showed us their white bellies before they turned around and left us again. We hope to be able to shut off the engine tonight and continue sailing with the light north wind towards Horta.

Day 20 – Full speed ahead

We motored until sunset yesterday. As soon as a light breeze developed, the loud engine was finally shut off and we hoisted full sails. Thanks to the flat water surface without any ripples, we were able to sail in very light wind and it was incredibly quiet on board. The gusts got stronger throughout the night, allowing us to sail with good speed now. Both of our friends‘ boats, SV Barefoot and SV Argo are not far away from us anymore and we were able to catch up on them. It is amazing that all three of us sailed over 2000 nautical miles 3 weeks long in different boats across the North Atlantic and yet more than 500 nautical miles away from land are so close to each other again. It will be a really exciting race for the finish line. Yesterday, after it got dark we spotted a regularly blinking buoy a few hundred meters on our starboard side. Whether it was a fishing net or weather buoy we do not know. In the middle of the night there suddenly was a lot of traffic, given we are still in the middle of the ocean. Normally we see one cargo ship from time to time on the horizon or on the instruments, usually a few miles away. Yesterday, however, it was a Dutch sailboat of our size, which overtook us under engine with direct course towards Horta. We will most likely see them there. At the same time a brightly illuminated Spanish fishing vessel approached from southeast and passed our stern just under a nautical mile. As if it wasn‘t already busy enough, a huge cargo ship steamed with 13 knots through the middle of all three boats. It sounds more dramatic than it really was, because all that happened over the period of about 1 hour, everybody adjusted course to stay well clear of the others and nobody came even close to us. Apart from that, ships generally, and especially us, are very slow compared to usual means of transportation and additionally have unlimited space to avoid collisions. However, after just under 3 weeks getting used to the loneliness in the blue vastness of the Atlantic, we perceived such sudden traffic as busy. The wind was very gusty through the night and we often had to adjust the sails and wind vane. In the morning we ate freshly baked sourdough sesame buns. With full speed ahead, Porky now holds direct course towards Horta. From time to time rain showers appear in the sky and make the wind quite gusty. We have not gotten wet yet but it’s drizzling. Constantly we trim the sails to continue with good speed. Horta is not far anymore!

Day 21 – Ripped mainsail

And just like that we have been traveling for 3 weeks now. Since yesterday it is overcast with light rain. In the afternoon we spotted another sailboat with course towards the Azores on the horizon. However, it was faster than us and not visible on AIS. In addition, we passed past a huge sea turtle yesterday, which was near plastic trash on the surface. We hope it wasn’t entangled in it. Unfortunately, we passed by too fast to see what was going on or to even react. The night was pretty stressful as the wind was very gusty and changed within a few minutes from 5 to 20 knots due to approaching rain clouds. Every 10 minutes we had to adjust the sails, rudder or wind vane. After the night watch we were properly exhausted and freezing from the light drizzle. While we report a lot of positive impressions of this adventure, which definitely outweigh the negative one’s, there are of course also physical and mental challenges. Slowly, the crossing starts to test our patience and perseverance. It‘s not always easy to live over several weeks on a few square meters with four people in such small space without any privacy. Although we all get along well, we are bound to the limited space of the boat and cannot get out of each other’s way. There is basically no time for yourself and you hear every word, which is spoken, even if you’d rather enjoy silence. Although we do not argue with each other, if one happens to be in a bad mood or annoyed there is no way to avoid each other. In addition, the different sailing conditions we have experienced so far also impact our emotions. During night watches it‘s a great opportunity to arrange one‘s thoughts and to enjoy some time alone. Generally everything is going perfectly fine and we mainly enjoy each other‘s company. At the moment we sail close hauled in finally more constant winds. Unfortunately, we have just discovered a small, finger-length tear in the mainsail, which must have ripped during a reefing maneuver last night. We‘ll try to sail in the second reef until we arrive, otherwise we have to temporarily patch it to not risk to rip it further apart. Presumably, the wind will be decreasing tonight so that the engine has to go back to work anyway. We are close to the Azores now and look forward to being able to stretch our legs again.

Day 22 – Getting used to the cold

It‘s getting cold here at only 20°C. We put on many layers at night and try to stay warm in long pants, jackets and sweaters in the chilly wind. Under deck, we quickly scurry under a warm blanket and drink a lot of tea. During the day we are glad to catch a few warming sunbeams. Is this the European summer? At night the forecasted calm arrived and we turned on the engine. The heat that radiates from the engine room, which we hated so much in the tropics is now welcome in the aftcabin. When we hand-steered at night, the hands and face became icy cold. Although the air is much more drier than in the Bahamas, a damp fog creeps over the water at night. Under the cloud cover without any moonlight, the visibility outside of the beam of our colorful navigation lights is equal to zero. As soon as the eyes adjust to the darkness, we can see the deck and the sails, but outside of our tiny illuminated world it‘s completely dark. Even if we cannot see the waves, we have now developed a subconscious sense allowing us to recognize how Porky rocks through the waves. From time to time, we get too accustomed to the movement that we attempt to climb carelessly through the boat without holding on. Immediately we are reminded to keep one hand on the boat when a waves hits the beam and jerks the boat sideways, resulting in us being thrown through the cabin. No matter how comfortable we get, we are being reminded that we’re always at the mercy of the powerful ocean. Land now feels so close and we are full of anticipation to have land in sight within the next 2-3 days. On the other hand, we will also be missing some aspects of life at sea. For example, there is no better place than on a tiny boat in the midst of the wide ocean to sort one’s thoughts and to think. Our perspective of time has changed very much, because we just have so damn much of it out here. We fall in an almost meditative state when watching the waves. Sometimes hours pass in which we let our thoughts wander, become creative, sometimes even philosophical. For some people that can become awfully boring. We definitely learn to deal with your own thoughts as well as keep ourselves entertained. In addition, apart from the influence of the other crew, occasional emails from friends and family, and offline media, we are completely isolated from the outside world. We are curious what the biggest headlines in the news were during the last month. For us out here it is somehow irrelevant what happens in the world because our little floating world seems so far away from it all. Our interest is primarily to keep the boat running, to stay healthy and to enjoy this adventure. Life at sea is as simple as that and even the smallest tasks are rewarding. Honestly, it is sometimes difficult to think back to everyday life on land. All the more we were happy to read emails from friends and family which gave us insights in their everyday life. Maybe they even reminded us of reality and increased our anticipation for life on land again. Since this morning we are sailing again, a bit slower than usually due to the second reef in the ripped main sail. Wind is light, force 3, and we are on a direct course toward Horta. Life on board has become very pleasant again thanks to very small waves. Both of our friends’ boats have spontaneously decided to head to Flores, the most northwestern island of the Azores. But we will certainly meet them a few days later in Horta.

Day 23 – Final stretch

All day yesterday we could sail, slow and steady. In the evening, even the light breeze stopped and the engine had to run again. Luckily, our old diesel engine has not let us down yet and reliably brought us through the many lulls during this crossing. We had to refill so much engine oil that we have no more left. We will do an oil change and give the good old Perkins some love in the Azores. Since we hit the diesel reserve, we poured two additional jugs in the tank for the night. The wind was still non-existent this morning, but we’d be close enough to reach Horta under engine, if needed. It would still be nice to sail along the island of Faial into the port of Horta. At night, we could spot the weak but noticeable light pollution from the westernmost island, Flores, in the night sky. This is the first sign of land after leaving Bermuda 15 days ago. A group of dolphins gave us a great show in the glowing water last night. It seemed almost unreal, like in a movie, as the playful animals left streaks of bright bioluminescence and splashed illuminated water in the darkness. And then in the morning, we heard Daniel’s voice from the cockpit. “Land-ho!”, he shouted cheerfully. We quickly climbed up the companionway, still a little sleepy, and saw the mountainous shape of Flores on the horizon for the first time. Although we sail passed this island, it was an incredible feeling to feel the proximity of land. After our radio was completely quiet for over 2 weeks, we jumped a bit when suddenly a loud and deep voice made an announcement. We are now in radio range from the islands and can listen to the for us completely incomprehensible conversations in Portuguese. At noon, the wind freshened up and we could let the spinnaker fly one more time. In these quiet conditions we could even send the drone flying above us showing Porky running under spinnaker on the big blue ocean. Also a very relaxed, huge sea turtle swam a few meters next to the boat on the surface and blew bubbles from its nose. Its shell was completely overgrown by barnacles, which in combination with its size made us think that the turtle must be very old. Daniel joked about it not using the right antifouling to avoid growth, which probably slows it down in the water. This will be our last day and last night at sea before we reach Horta tomorrow. Having land in sight brings up mixed feelings in us. On one hand, we are relieved to have completed this crossing successfully, that we can soon walk on land again, and that we can munch away on as much European food as we can fit in our bellies. But on the other end a true adventure comes to an end and we are incredibly proud of us and also the boat to have mastered this long and intense journey over the treacherous North Atlantic. Only a bit more than 100 nautical miles left until we can enjoy a well-deserved drink at the famous Café Sport and a warm shower! Horta here we come!

Day 24 – Landfall in Horta

We arrived safely in Horta this afternoon! This morning we approached Faial, but a dense cloud cover still didn’t let us see any land even a few nautical miles away. We sailed with the spinnaker in calm weather until a beautiful lush green coast came to light behind the clouds. Small villages were surrounded by evenly distributed fields, which then fell into the ocean in dramatic rock formations. Wow, what a great sight! We sat on deck with a big grin on our faces and let the first impressions of the Azores with their incredibly beautiful nature affect us. We joyfully drove to the famous port among sailors in the middle of the small colorful village of Horta. We dropped anchor between a few other boats and let the dinghy into the water so that Daniel could check in with the harbor master. Fortunately, this was a very easy and fast process and we were immediately assigned a place in the third row in a pack at the harbor pier. As soon as Porky was safely moored at the neighboring boat, we jumped off the boat and walked along the pier to the well-known sailor’s bar, Café Sport! We already met our first friends there. There are also boats at anchor and in the marina that we have already met somewhere on our trip before. The sailing world is so small! Freshly showered and after a first run to the supermarket, we are now celebrating our arrival with an aperitif.

Here are a few more facts about our Atlantic crossing:
In total, we covered 2775 nautical miles from Nassau to Horta, with a 10 hour stop im Bermuda. It was by far our slowest crossing so far with an average of 116 nautical miles per day. But it’s not always about speed, but about the experience and above all that we arrived safely. In total, we were at sea for 24 days, of which we sailed for 448 hours and motored for 126 hours (way too much for our taste). Now we are enjoying our time in the Azores and are looking forward to the new impressions in the so remote Portuguese archipelago. However, our Atlantic round is far from over. Even if the Azores already belong to Europe, we still have the passage to mainland Europe ahead of us. In the good three weeks at sea, we definitely learned a lot. It was an incredible experience and adventure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: